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Subject: I had heard that military history was out of favor, but I certainly didn't know this... rss

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Chris R.
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"There are four recognized military history programs in the United States where you can get a major, and there's 230, as of last count, peace studies programs. ...

So what is military history? Really it's to tell us why people destroy each other in insane fashion." -- Victor Davis Hanson, American military historian, speaking during the 70th anniversary of D-Day

(I don't mean to quote something political or controversial.)

Only four places left to learn about military history? Wow, why so many?

Maybe everyone else knew this sort of thing already.

I wonder if this affects the quality of our wargames without many of us really even realizing it?
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Bob Roberts

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36 listed here: http://www.smh-hq.org/grad/gradguide/geolist.html
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Wolf Hoepper
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Military history seems out of fashion? Yes and no.

Given the number of documentations aired on german TV, the focus is definitely on the Shoah and other crimes committed by the Nazis. Nonetheless some depicting the military aspect are also shown, varying in range from panzer development to the more obscure stuff like flying saucers. Some are good and some not so, but they are aired at least.

For general interest, I can say, that for the last 5 years I have the honour to "give" a 2 hour lesson at the school, where my wife is a teacher for history. Her pupils in class 11 or 12 are really interested in Germanys sinister past under Hitler. It´s not the ususal monologue by one person, but I start with having them to write down 3 subjects they are interested in the most on a piece of paper, then we sum them up into a kind of ranking and then we go into a dialogue about it. The most astounding fact though is, that the military aspect of the war itself is always among the top 2. What astounds them most is the fact, how Germany could have waged such a long war against the allies, some battles (mainly Barbarossa and Stalingrad) and military technology (from jet planes to "the mighty Tiger"). And since I was asked after my first "lecture" if I knew good books about a subject, I started to hand out a list after each lecture.

So from my point of view, the interest in military history is definitely there, although perhaps the more general public doesn´t care too much. More than once I received that stare from people, when asked about my hobbies in small talk: Wargaming? Military history? Must be some kind of weirdo...





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Ben Bosmans
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History study in general has taken a back seat in many countries and schools.

Is this a bad thing ?

Yes because every few generations we make the same mistakes.

The general knowledge of military history in our younger generation is terrible really apart from some touristic attractions, most people would put Napoleonic wars ages before or after 1800.

The same for Crusades, 100 years war, or even the other wars that lead to modern day Europe from the 18th Century onwards.

--------
If you don't know where you come from, you have no idea where you are going to.
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Neal Durando
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In 2011 I was hired by the Geography department of the local university to give an eight-hour course on armed conflict to Master's-level students preparing for the national teaching exams. "Surely you have someone on the faculty..." I protested. No. They didn't. And they were a little embarrassed as the subject the ministry of education had chosen that year was "conflict". Geography was well staffed to talk about resource conflicts of all sorts. And, oh my, they were ten times over strength to talk about any sort of social conflict. But they needed an outsider, a knuckle dragger to actually talk about the unpleasant stuff that absolutely nobody in France learns about in school.

I had been teaching US counterinsurgency doctrine to French army officers for the past five years, so I didn't want for preparation. But otherwise I was going in blind. I needed to know my students' level of awareness. Put a good ol' mercator projection of the globe up on the screen to help them. My map was even even printed with the names of the countries. The bar was as low as I could stomp it down. "Who can name a country where French forces are actively engaged?" I figured I would at least get Libya. Silence. So I surveyed them. French students are allergic to volunteering. I prompted. "On which continent or continents might they be engaged?" Silence. These people were simply ignorant, though Tripoli was under their bombs.

So I showed the extent of French involvement with foreign internal defense in Africa, saving Libya for later. Crickets, though I think some of them looked at the map as if it were written in the blood spilled at Verdun. "All apocalypse, all the time," seems to be the baseline French civilian's understanding of any armed conflict from a knife fight in Marseilles to high-intensity warfare in Iraq. Later, in the second course, I was treated to "My parents knew the Taliban in 1979 and they were okay."

I wonder how lost the undergraduates are at this university, though I fear to learn the answer.
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Bill Eldard
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Ben_Bos wrote:
History study in general has taken a back seat in many countries and schools.

Agreed, and as military history is a subset of history, it gets even less attention.

I have no facts at hand to point to this is as a recent phenomenon, though it would appear that there has been less emphasis on history in American public schools since I grew up in the '60s.

IMHO this parallels the gaming hobby: wargaming is a subset of gaming. Occasionally someone opens a BGG thread on how one gets euro-gamers to enjoy wargaming, and without reopening that can or worms, suffice it to say that an interest or curiosity about military history is generally a prerequisite.

Listening to folks talk about their interest (or lack of) in history over the years, I do sense that there are many who misinterpret the study or portrayal of military history as an acceptance or even glorification of warfare, and therefore they avoid it as a moral issue. I have gamed with individuals who will not play a wargame based on ancient Rome or World War II because the conflicts represent the deaths of actual people, but they will play a sci-fi or fantasy themed conflict game because the beings getting killed are fictional. I could argue that the distinction is rather thin, but I leave it alone. To each, his own.
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Чебурашка, ты настоящий друг!
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It also depends on what you define as military history. Many people may be doing research on war, yet not see what they are doing as military history because they are not doing "drums and trumpets" military history or were not trained as military historians. At the same time, many military historians are applying methodologies and approaches developed outside military history or examining topics once not seen as the preserve of the military historian. It therefore might not always be clear who is doing military history and who not, or two people might be doing very similar things, yet only one see their activity as military history.

I'm not sure what sense it makes to compare the number of military history programmes to those dealing with peace studies: the first is a sub-discipline, the second an interdisciplinary topic bringing together historians, political scientists, geographers, economists, sociologists etc. etc. who are bound together not by an approach or methodology but the object of their study.
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brant G
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In 1993, I was working on my English degree, but taking a bunch of history classes just out of personal interest. Aside from the specific Military History class that was required for ROTC, I was astounded at the number of history students - majoring in history mind you - that couldn't properly locate the Napoleonic Wars, or the Seven Wars War/French & Indian War, or the Thirty Years' War in the right half-century. A few of them couldn't give you the participants in the American Civil War.
These weren't Jay-Leno-man-on-the-street interviews. These were juniors/seniors studying history at a major 4-year college in the US.
And this wasn't last week. This was over 20 years ago, in the shadow of what was then "the Gulf War".

What really killed me, though, was in one of my more advanced English classes, when discussing the influence the French Revolution had on literature and liberal thought in general, and how there was a backlash after Waterloo that tamped down some of the wilder imaginations in literature across Europe - one girl said to her friend (under her breath but louder than she realized) "I always thought it was just an Abba song."
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Robb Minneman
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Jackasses? You let a whole column get stalled and strafed on account of a couple of jackasses? What the hell's the matter with you?
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People ask us why we homeschool our kids*. And then stories like the ones in this thread crop up, and it becomes blazingly obvious why we homeschool our children.

*"What are you, some kind of weirdo?" is the subtext. Well, yeah.
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Carl Fung
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You gotta understand war if you want to understand peace.
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Xander Fulton
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hedererp wrote:
When I explained I was studying siege warfare and the development of German military thought from 1870-1916 I was simply asked, "Why?" I explained the importance the role of trying to build their siege capability had on funding, manpower, doctrine in the German Army. I also tried to tie it into something they might know-- how the German need to seize the Belgian fortresses so quickly set the stage, and influenced events in 1914 summer crisis, and before the war. A lot of blank stares.

But I assume you understand the reason for the "why" question, right?

Pressure is rather high to turn any information people bother to store into profit. How to improve a product, get more work out of employees, reduce inefficiencies. Everything learned must be able to have some dollar value assigned to it, or people ask why you are wasting time with it (and my gods do we field that exact question a lot!). This is why a lot of the rather ridiculous-sounding 'soft studies' get so much attention - if a corporation believes they can improve employee retention or boost productivity by hiring experts in those fields, then those fields become quite valuable.

In contrast...how would the development of 19th century siege warfare impact a corporations profitability? IE., how would having that information make a company more money, today?

I think that is why a lot of 'military history' courses have fallen by the wayside. From a PURE HISTORY perspective, there is less to be learned that is directly applicable for boosting profits in day-to-day operations of a business. There is still much to be studied, of course, but it speaks to what the colleagues you were talking with were looking at - leadership lessons, people management methods and effects, impact of stress on planning and critical thinking, etc. Those are things history can teach us that are able to be directly tied to success in business.

(Now, that said, I can't imagine any excuses for the example of the French class later in the thread. What countries your nation is actively bombing or potentially considering war with is VERY MUCH the sort of thing that can impact a business's profitability or possible opportunities. Ignorance in that regard is a bit terrifying!)
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Daniel Blumentritt
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Quote:
most people would put Napoleonic wars ages before or after 1800

Since that collectively covers all of time excepting the year 1800 itself, I'd guess most people would guess one of those options, yes.
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Cameron Taylor
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Most people are pretty clueless about world events, whether current or historical. Very few people read newspapers or similar types of periodicals. Most are into celebrity gossip and whatever cause célèbre is in vogue. Most people don't know their branches of government or how the legal system works.

Most people just aren't interested, which I can understand. Why learn about something you have no individual capability to change? I only learn about history and current affairs for entertainment. It's not like I'm a policy analyst, policy maker, military history academic, or military officer. I just read it because I want to understand the world around me, despite my inability to change it.

If you're not entertained by military history you're probably going to be completely ignorant about the subject. I have absolutely no interest in sport of any kind, so I don't even recognise individuals from the national teams, nor could I tell you about their roles or performance. It's not like military history and theory is part of the national curriculum. It's not exactly useful in everyday life (quite like calculus).
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William Ford
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sikeospi wrote:
"So what is military history? Really it's to tell us why people destroy each other in insane fashion." -- Victor Davis Hanson, American military historian, speaking during the 70th anniversary of D-Day
This question is not addressed by courses in a typical Peace Studies program? The first program I pulled up after a Google search was the one at Loyola Chicago. Courses include:
War, Peace and Politics (PLSC 358)

The historical evolution of war, the nature of wars in the 20th century and into the 21st century, the nature of threats, sources of conflict, and procedures for peaceful resolution of disputes. Outcome: Students will be able to demonstrate an understanding of the principal causes of wars, the means and ends of warfare, and the process and prospects of reestablishing peace.


This War, Peace, and Politics course sounds like the most general one addressing Hanson's question, but if you want courses focusing on specific conflicts, the choices include:
Arab-Israeli Conflict (HIST 322)

This course explores the history of the Arab-Israeli conflict since the beginnings of the immigration of the East Europeans and Russian Jews to Ottoman Palestine in the late 19th century. Outcome: Students will gain understanding of national Zionism in Europe; Ottoman and British Palestine; the declaration of the state of Israel; the Palestinian refugee problem; the Arab-Israeli wars; the Camp David agreement and recent peace talks and their aftermath.

The Second World War (HIST 326)

The course examines the history of the war from its origins to the destruction of the Axis powers and the onset of the Cold War. Outcome: Students will understand the interrelationship among political, social, economic, military, and diplomatic developments as demonstrated in the events of the Holocaust, the spread of nationalism, and the origins of the Cold War.

The Vietnam War (HIST 389)

This course offers a comprehensive examination of origin, execution, and failure of America's war in Vietnam. Outcome: Students will understand the ancient origins of the Vietnamese nation, the rise and fall of the French colonial regime, the role of Vietnam in the Cold War, the peace movement, the political and cultural impact of the war on America, the success and failures of the United States military, the impact of the war on the Indo-China region, and the memory of the war in American culture.


I would expect that a program of study called Military History would offer a different mix of courses than a Peace Studies program, e.g., a Peace Studies program would focus more on 20th and 21st century conflicts, but unless Loyola's program is unusual, it doesn't look like the Victor Davis Hanson question is ignored in these programs. Instead, it looks like that question is a central one.

Source: http://www.luc.edu/peace/


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Mike Szarka
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SeriousCat wrote:
Most people are pretty clueless about world events, whether current or historical. Very few people read newspapers or similar types of periodicals. Most are into celebrity gossip and whatever cause célèbre is in vogue. Most people don't know their branches of government or how the legal system works.

Most people just aren't interested, which I can understand. Why learn about something you have no individual capability to change? I only learn about history and current affairs for entertainment. It's not like I'm a policy analyst, policy maker, military history academic, or military officer. I just read it because I want to understand the world around me, despite my inability to change it.

If you're not entertained by military history you're probably going to be completely ignorant about the subject. I have absolutely no interest in sport of any kind, so I don't even recognise individuals from the national teams, nor could I tell you about their roles or performance. It's not like military history and theory is part of the national curriculum. It's not exactly useful in everyday life (quite like calculations ).

I don't agree. In a democracy, you do have an ability to change things, by voting, obviously, but also by direct involvement in political parties, and by speaking out in public when you hear bullshit that you know, not just think, is bullshit. By supporting initiatives that broaden access to and improve funding in education. By making sure your own kids are raised to question and think.

I refuse to despair. Yes, I live in a country whose global reach is limited, but our voices still matter. And we just elected a government whose policies are polar opposite to those we had for ten years. Things do change.
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John Iverson
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badinfo wrote:

Ah, I see University of Kansas under the United States listing, and the linked page listing Carolyn Nelson (PhD, University of Kansas, 1970)
- Roman/Barbarian Warfare. Found memories of my Humanities/Social Science elective class I took - "Case Studies in Military History - Roman". A great semester.
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Captain Nemo
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XanderF wrote:
Pressure is rather high to turn any information people bother to store into profit. How to improve a product, get more work out of employees, reduce inefficiencies. Everything learned must be able to have some dollar value assigned to it, or people ask why you are wasting time with it (and my gods do we field that exact question a lot!). This is why a lot of the rather ridiculous-sounding 'soft studies' get so much attention - if a corporation believes they can improve employee retention or boost productivity by hiring experts in those fields, then those fields become quite valuable.

In contrast...how would the development of 19th century siege warfare impact a corporations profitability? IE., how would having that information make a company more money, today?

I think that is why a lot of 'military history' courses have fallen by the wayside. From a PURE HISTORY perspective, there is less to be learned that is directly applicable for boosting profits in day-to-day operations of a business. There is still much to be studied, of course, but it speaks to what the colleagues you were talking with were looking at - leadership lessons, people management methods and effects, impact of stress on planning and critical thinking, etc. Those are things history can teach us that are able to be directly tied to success in business.

Which explains why there was no awareness of the history behind IRAQ prior to the Gulf Wars. Over reliance on short-term profit can result in long-term failings.

I think in the long-term the increasing military illiteracy amongst the population in general and leaders in particular is going to result in some major problems in the future.
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Чебурашка, ты настоящий друг!
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XanderF wrote:
But I assume you understand the reason for the "why" question, right?

Pressure is rather high to turn any information people bother to store into profit. How to improve a product, get more work out of employees, reduce inefficiencies. Everything learned must be able to have some dollar value assigned to it, or people ask why you are wasting time with it (and my gods do we field that exact question a lot!). This is why a lot of the rather ridiculous-sounding 'soft studies' get so much attention - if a corporation believes they can improve employee retention or boost productivity by hiring experts in those fields, then those fields become quite valuable.

In contrast...how would the development of 19th century siege warfare impact a corporations profitability? IE., how would having that information make a company more money, today?

I think that is why a lot of 'military history' courses have fallen by the wayside. From a PURE HISTORY perspective, there is less to be learned that is directly applicable for boosting profits in day-to-day operations of a business. There is still much to be studied, of course, but it speaks to what the colleagues you were talking with were looking at - leadership lessons, people management methods and effects, impact of stress on planning and critical thinking, etc. Those are things history can teach us that are able to be directly tied to success in business.

Having seen what type of topics funding bodies support in historical studies, I'm pretty sure none of that has anything to do with how people choose their areas of research.

Certainly, in Britain, the Research Assessment Exercise does assess research, at least in part, on the basis of so-called impact, which is all about getting your research to a wider audience. However, military historians actually (it seems to me, at least) have an advantage here as the various centenaries and other anniversaires of major military events, on top of the large level of general interest and opportunity to tie in military with local history (through the experiences of local units etc.), makes it easier for them to get involved in things where they can demonsrate impact.
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Bob Roberts

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Along the lines of Xander's post:

When I told my father I was taking a history major in college, way back when, he presented me with an article he had found somewhere (pre-internet) that claimed that the vast majority of history majors ended up as insurance salesmen or real estate agents.

He wasn't exactly wrong, I never found a job directly related to my degree, though I've never done either of those things. Contrary to my dad's article a lot of the "regular" history majors I knew were double majoring in Political Science and were aiming for either a law degree or political career. I used to know a lot of folks with law degrees that weren't practicing law though.

I often wonder what happened to the guy I knew who was working on an advanced degree in Military History studying English Civil War fortifications. Or the guy specializing in early 19th century US Naval operations. Outside of teaching, or museum curating, unless you are a talented writer that can crank out best selling books, what exactly are you going to do with a military history degree?
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Confusion Under Fire
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badinfo wrote:
Outside of teaching, or museum curating, unless you are a talented writer that can crank out best selling books, what exactly are you going to do with a military history degree?

Wargame Design?
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Bob Zurunkel
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whatambush wrote:
badinfo wrote:
Outside of teaching, or museum curating, unless you are a talented writer that can crank out best selling books, what exactly are you going to do with a military history degree?

Wargame Design?

I think the implication is: How do you make a living with a military history degree? That eliminates wargame design.
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Чебурашка, ты настоящий друг!
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badinfo wrote:
I often wonder what happened to the guy I knew who was working on an advanced degree in Military History studying English Civil War fortifications. Or the guy specializing in early 19th century US Naval operations. Outside of teaching, or museum curating, unless you are a talented writer that can crank out best selling books, what exactly are you going to do with a military history degree?

Although the context of Paul's story was the question of "why" from other historians, whose research on forced labour and racial policy is no more marketable outside academia. It is therefore a tale not of military history's lack of corporate promise (which is true of all branches of history*), but rather the scepticism of other historical sub-disciplines toward military history.

_________
*On reflection, I suspect that these areas are less marketable: I would hazard a guess that the only areas of history where you can make a living just from writing books are military history and biography.
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Seth Owen
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badinfo wrote:

Looks like just programs in English, too. So it would be interesting if our BGG denizens from non-English speaking lands might find a few more.
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Jason Cawley
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Bob - I knew several people who majored in political science but did military history within it. What did they do with the degrees? One became a college professor and publishes history monographs. Another worked for a while at the Rand corporation - military contractor studies, of operations research topics and such - and last I heard, when on to run wargame sessions for the US Navy War College. I've known others - though not in my major at my university, in that unlike the previous two - who went into commercial game design, both board and computer (different people). One more I knew earlier did military history undergrad, but didn't see a career in it, managed to get into an engineering program for graduate school, and ended up working for a large defense firm as an systems engineer.
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Jason Cawley
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Mike wrote in relevant part "improve funding in education". I'm sorry, I just have to laugh at this. Funding has nothing to do with it, it is purely a matter of priorities and objectivity vs academic political cults. People "graduate" these days with $100,000 plus in debt and a degree in grievance studies or basketweaving; the academics and administrators taking all their subsidized loan money are laughing all the way to the bank, while the clueless students who spent years just learning to regurgitate utter garbage are left holding the bag.
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